tv Tavis Smiley WHUT June 5, 2012 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with best-selling author gail collins. in 2001, she became the first woman appointed to head the times editorial page. her latest book focuses on the current state of politics, and in particular, the influence of taxes on the national agenda. the new book is called "as texas goes." it focuses on a number of topics, including the recall and the trial of john edwards. our conversation with gail collins coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where
walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] ." please -- >> please welcome gail collins back. she is also a best-selling author and her latest text is called "house texaco's: how the loan -- how texas goes: how the loans are states hijacked the national agenda."
i will start with the wisconsin recall that we are on the eve of as we conduct this conversation, your sense of what might happen there and what will happen to impact the national agenda come this fall. >> it is very much a wisconsin thing. wisconsin is one of those states that is self aware. i do not know how much impact it will have except if the governor stays in office,t will be because the conservatives, the right wing had more enthusiasm. there is not appear to be a difference as far as position. this will be a test as which side is more enthusiastic, which side cares the most. tavis: you don't think there will be any store line coming out of wisconsin on the national level about the power of the tea
party, about the weakness of unions, and about the issue of collective bargaining. you do not see any national trends or storylines coming out of wisconsin? >> in ohio, it was different. thehio, the union's one same kind of fight. the interesting thing about wisconsin is that you have a guy that ran for governor without talking about this issue. this guy ran for governor saying, if elected, i will get rid of -- he did not run for governor saying, if elected i will get rid of collective bargaining rights. and then he was elected and just pop it on the state. it had -- it does appear to be pretty radical. it is something that you need to have a conversation with the state about, and he did not do that. tavis: your opening line of our
john edwards was something like, john edwards, sort of not guilty. for those who did not see your post-mortem on the john edwards trial, assuming he will come back again -- let me start with that. do you think he will be retried again? >> of all the things that americans do not want to do this year, number two is to have another deficit debate. number one, you'll have another john edwards trial. tavis: what is your sense of what did transpire in that north carolina courtroom? >> it was a very complicated case. all of the campaign finance is hard for average people to understand under the best of circumstances. and you had a very narrow question. and you had a main witness who is as possibly as slimy as the guy who was being tried. it did not work out on any
level. i was surprised all along this thing ever went to trial. tavis: your sense of the serra -- sincerity and the path forward for john edwards, you mentioned that he wanted to spend his life working on issues of poverty. what is your sense of the connection between john edwards and the issue of property. it is to his credit that he is the last person to run for president to put this issue on the forefront in a campaign. >> he certainly did talk about it. i would say on behalf of everyone i know in the american public, if he wants to move to some remote part of the trip -- of the country and work on these issues regarding children, we will be incredibly impressed, as long as he never tells us about it and just quietly goes and does it.
we have been through politicians having sex crises here in new york with beat eliot spitzer messed some years back. he was going to help to fix the world, too, and he wound up doing a tv show. it was not what we had in mind. tavis: what do you make of the fact that politicians have been run out of office, or have put themselves, quite frankly, under the bus. and they end up in the media spotlight. elliot spitzer is on his second or third television program. maybe the way to get on tv these days, to host your own show, is to get on -- caught up in a sex scandal and make a real band -- a rebound. what do you make of these guys coming back? >> if your a person in public life and you are a disgrace, you want to make a comeback.
normally, that begins with somebody saying, i want to do something to help people. i want to do something to help the lepers in the third world. i want to do something to help abandoned wives in india. there are billions of great causes, but most people do not want to go to those places and deal with them. they want to talk about them, because that is what they do. tavis: i think we just went back up to new york where you are with elliot spitzer. i thought the idiom was at "don't mess with texas." what are you doing writing a book about taxes? >> that is the interesting thing. texas is so self aware. i come from ohio and no one there would ever say that. it is part of the fascinating
thing about texas that people in texas are so aware of themselves as texans. tavis: the premise of your book, we will get into more deeply in just a second. many want to make the same argument about california that you make about texaswhich is that what happens in california either cast a long shadow or a long some beam across the country. the same thing happens in texas. what happens cast a long sunbeam, or to my mind, a long shadow across the country. why can we say that about taxes when the same thing can be said about california? i i remember in the 1980's, remember calling someone to talk about something about the issue of the east coast and calling
someone in california and been yelled at. nothing is relevant except for the pacific rim. that was california's moment. but california is now struggling. it is still a great state, but i would not say it is leading this side -- leading the way on any side in the political discourse. when you ask about taxes, although it is so angry about the federal government, why is the federal government picking on us all the time -- basically, texas has been setting the federal agenda for the last 30 years. if you look at the savings and loan crisis, banking deregulation, environment, energy, no child left behind, these were all things that came out of taxes in one way or another. -- texas one way or another. and with the tea party you have this texan cast.
the political divide are the places that think of themselves as empty places and crowded places. people who live in crowded places like government and they like the idea that government will be the arbitrator between them and those who will be criminals, from dogs to put on sidewalks, from sewer main explosions. they like government. people from and the places present governmental because it seems like they are out there on the up -- on their on and government should not get in their way. the fascinating thing about texas is that texas thinks of itself as a -- an empty place, but it is huge and growing and there are vast metropolitan areas. >> if texas had that much power and that much sway over the
national agenda, what you make of the fact that rick perry could not even get off the ground? >> there are members of congress that have historically been very powerful, although the two- party -- the tea party was based on the thinking of ron paul. early on, it is very texas in its flavor. but natural texan politicians make a terrible presidential candidates. phil gramm, i remember the phil gramm for president campaign. i thought that was the worst thing in the history of the world, but rick perry was possibly worse. the bushes were sort of imported into texas and they were the only ones who made it work. tavis: what about this disconnect between texas politicians often times being on abled -- unable to play on the national stage?
clearly, there are exceptions. what is your sense of how well they play on the stage and in texas? of these people are bigger than life personalities inside the state, but they cannot seem to make the jump to the national stage, even though to your earlier point, the state often drives the federal agenda. tell me about the disconnect. >> it is very interesting and it is partly because texas politics is in some ways not very competitive. you have a very low to -- very low voter turnout. it is one of the lowest in the country. and you do not have many districts at all that have any kind of political competition between the parties. it is really, really minimal. it is possible that you could argue that what plaze intech this does not necessarily play nationally. -- what plays in texas " does not necessarily play nationally.
lyndon johnson could never have become president if he was not vice president when john kennedy was shot. the bushes were part of texas in their minds, but they did not have the kind of political flavor that you normally find in texas politicians. texas is such a unique place to itself that politically, at least so far, they have not found anybody to play nationally. tavis: you have a number of issues on which taxes has been leading the national and agenda, -- texas has been leading the national agenda, for better or worse. one area is education, and is physically textbooks. tell us more about the impact that the education in texas has had on input and the ideology expressed in the textbooks that kids across the country get forced to read and to learn from. >> texas has had an amped -- a remarkable influence on the
textbooks said everyone gets in this country because it is so huge. it is such a huge market for the publishers. and until recently, i had a system in which the state board of education, the state school board would recommend three or four books for each subject area, each grade. and then would pay for any of those if the school chose them. if you were not on that very short texas list, you work out a ton of money. and if you were on that texas list, you could sell a lot of text books very fast. everybody wanted to please that state school board. and the people who were elected on the board, and again, as i said, very little turnout in the elections. especially in these off-year school board deals, you had a very narrow school board that
were really nuts for a while. you had one woman on the board who thought the public schools were the tool of the devil, and she is serving on the state school board. you had many people that did not believe in evolution. and they were very aggressive in trying to get changes in the school textbooks that would reflect their beliefs. for a long time you had people changing, publishers changing theirs cool to experts -- their school textbooks to things they thought the school board wanted, dramatically changing them. the school board is not nearly as aggressive as it was, but the thing that it really did, the real huge impact of texas and to be fair, other states that did the same thing, it made the textbooks in possible for kids to read. because the publishers are so
worried about offending somebody and so eager to stake in each of the little boxes to check off all of the -- stake in each of the little boxes to check of all the possibilities, you know, the motorcycle winner that had a race in the history books that their kids were using -- if you have that kind of mentality, you cannot write anything very fascinating or have a very aggressive narration. you get these books that are very small she and hard to read, and incoherent. -- very smushy and incoherent and hard to read. tavis: what about the issue of abstinence in public education? >> in texas, most of the schools have taught abstinence only education for sex education. i remember when rick perry was running for governor last time, he was being interviewed on the tv by the texas tribune who
said, this abstinence only tactic does not seem to be working that well since we have the third highest rate of teenage pregnancy rate in the country and rick perry said, no, it is good. and evans said, how is it good because we got the second highest rate of repeat teenage pregnancies in the country? what is the good part? and rick perry said, all i can tell you is that i know from personal experience that abstinence works. i found that so fascinating that i wanted to follow this down the line. there was a big study done a few years ago on what each of these school districts was teaching as far as sex education. most of them made no mention whatsoever of condoms, except to say that they did not work. there were some that were using theories about when a woman gets pregnant that have not, i swear to you, been seen since colonial
days. there were many who talked about how you would die if you had sex. and if you can talk kids into never having sex until they are out of high school, that is great. but the problem is, once they do, that horse is out of the barn and you got to figure out a way for them to do it safely. california has been very successful on that level. texas does not do that. and they have a very high rate of teenage pregnancies. and texas has also been at war with planned parity -- planned parenthood. they have been very unenthusiastic about their services. and 60% of the women giving birth give birth under medicaid because they are so poor. jimmy kimmel when i look at these things, these are things happening -- to meet, when i look at these things, these are things happening within texas. medicaid is something we pay for
as a nation. and we are happy to do it. i think is good to be helping poor people get health care. but for a stay tuesday, you have no right to have any discussion about what we -- for a state to say, you have no right to have any discussion about what we do as far as family planning seems to be questionable. i have been trying to figure out where states' rights and and where your responsibility to the nation as a whole begins. tavis: there will be great debate in the coming weeks and months. and there will be discussion over what mr. obama and mr. romney will do. no place is this battle more acute than in texas. your research says what to you about the growing hispanic population in the state of texas? and how that connection with the immigration and others will play
out on the stage. >> with the next decade or so, hispanics are likely to become the majority. but that has not translated into political victory for the democrats, who expect to pick up most of the hispanic votes, because the turnout is very low among latino voters in many parts of texas. all the new laws that keep being passed that make it more difficult to register to vote, that make it more difficult to vote, that the man that you have certain kinds of varieties in order to get in to vote -- a voter i.d. in order to get into vote, like in texas for example, you can have your gun license, but not your student id. that suggests there is a desire
to keep this turnout low or among young people, hispanic people, poor people in states like this. tavis: texas has been known for years as the state in the country that puts more people to death. your research says what to you about the death penalty debate? across the country, i think it is fair to say that i can point to research and data that there are states that are starting to rethink the death penalty. anti- death penalty advocates are making the case time and again that thankfully, states are starting to rethink this issue. are they rethinking it in taxes? >> i think they are. -- in texas? >> i think they are. i do not think there will be a race to end the death penalty in texas, but all of the harsh criminal policies in texas have had the effect of raising the cost of prison in texas hugely.
and it is not only guys who are being sent to prison and will be there for a while. all of these things add up to cross for the state. and to the degree that criminal justice laws lead to higher costs, i think that they are being rethought, even in texas. tavis: speaking of the national election, how is romney going to play in texas and how you think this campaign plays out in texas precisely? >> texas is like my state, nobody will come here or campaign here. texas is a red state and i think ron meet very -- mitt romney accounts that in his pocket right now.
tavis: this is a big question, but take whatever piece of it you want. what is your sense of the campaign right now? i know it will change many times between now and election day, but now that we know that mr. romney got the delegates he needed to secure the nomination, how do you see this playing out? >> goeverybody knows this will e fought out between just a handful of states. and it will be fought out in populations of only sometimes jarring up in the polls voters to see who turns out -- only sometimes showing up in the polls voters to see who turns out. there are many sitting there on both sides right now biting their nails.
there is nothing that can happen for you guys. you are where you are and you will be fine and you will vote where you vote. there is a small group in the middle that everybody is trying to get through -- get to that will not engage until the fall. although it is fascinating and we will be watching it every day, i cannot say that unless it is super dramatic, anything that happens even this week or even next month will make a difference. tavis: in the fall, the you think these billions of dollars that will be spent between the obama and mitt romney campaigns, to say nothing of the super pac money spent on their behalf, are we likely to see an oversaturation the likes of which we have never seen, given the amount of money that is about to be spent? >> that will be interesting. this will be the year that will
determine whether it there can be a limit on how much you can spend, particularly on advertising. spending on turning out the vote might have a lot more impact. i suspect the super pacs will have more impact on some of these races. i would look more at the house and senate then i will the presidential race. -- then i would the presidential race. tavis: the new book by columnist gail collins is called "how texas those." that is our show tonight. see you back here next time. until then, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a
conversation with oscar-winning filmmaker charles ferguson about wall street and howard has not changed, plus an actress christina ricci. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television]